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The official Battle.net forums were flooded with many questions after the latest Battle Report, which constituted the first showcasing of StarCraft 2 in four months. Karune and the blues did their best to answer some important ones, which we have collected in this post.

First up, Cavez on the new Hydralisk melee attack:

It does not change the damage at all. It has the same attack rate and does exactly the same damage as the regular hydralisk attack. It is just visual.

Seeing how some of StarCraft’s units already had a different attack depending on whether the target was on the ground or in the air, it’s not so much of a stretch to have units change their attack when approaching close-combat range. It will be interesting to see if this evolves into a different attack, stat wise – just like the difference between StarCraft 1’s Goliath ground and air attacks, and similar to the highly developed mechanism found in the Dawn of War RTS games.

For example, the Space Marine Dreadnought can use its flamers or long range assault cannons from a distance – but when it gets close enough, it starts grabbing enemy infantry units, crushing them in its giant, mechanical hands – dealing significantly more damage, and often killing them in one strike.

Dreadnaught crushing Banshees in its huge, mechanical hands

Next up, a bunch of Planetary Fortress goodness from Karune. When asked about its usefulness compared to the Orbital Command, he replied:

Currently in testing, the PF (Planetary Fortress) is already quite beefy – It’s ground attack has been buffed to 40 damage and has a 6 range. When upgrading to a PF, your command center also gets +2 building armor, making this building a very formidable obstacle, especially with 20 SCVs repairing at the same time. There have been many games I’ve seen the PF hold off raiding forces and sometimes even attacking forces by itself and SCVs. While I wouldn’t think it’d be wise to convert your first Command Center to a PF, converting strategic expansions could be helpful, such as those at high yields or may be farther away from the rest of your bases.

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On a side note cause I’m sure somebody is wondering this as well – the PF upgrade costs 150 minerals and 150 gas whereas the Orbital Command upgrade costs just 150 minerals. The PF prerequisite building is the Engineering Bay and the Orbital Command prerequisite building is the Barracks.

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The PF does splash damage as well.

The Planetary Fortress is a real beast. The Terran Command Center is one of the toughest buildings in the game as is, and transforming it into a splash-damage dealing, heavily armored fortress, which can be fixed by plenty of SCVs at the same time (due to its girth) will make Terran Expansions hard to take down without dedicated effort. It’s so powerful, in fact, that some use it for offensive purposes:

Yup, they make for some pretty humorous games, though keep in mind each one of these are a 550 minerals and 150 gas investment. It takes quite a bit of time to build + upgrade, but if you could pull it off early game (assuming your opponent does not scout) it will surely keep them bottled up until tier 2 or 3 where more mobility comes online. To mount an attack on a Planetary Fortress takes quite a good number of units. Usually it would be better to bypass it if you can.

This is of course more of a gimmick than a strategy that will have high success repetitively :)

Boxer, take notice.

Planetary Fortress. Don't mess with it.

Cydra has also confirmed that a Command Center with upgrades can not be salvaged – which effectively commits the player to the cost and permanent location of the upgraded Command Center.

Once you upgrade your Command Center to Orbital Command or Planetary Fortress, you can’t undo the upgrades. And you can’t salvage them.

This brings the list of limitations to:

  • Can’t be lifted.
  • Can’t be upgraded to a different setup or downgraded back to a Command Center (for lift-off purposes).
  • Can’t be Salvaged.

Cydra mentions the first known nerf to the Orbital Command‘s MULEs, which previously possessed the same attack as SCVs and had no line of sight calldown limitations.

True, as long as you have line of sight on the spot, you can drop MULE. On the enemy’s Siege Tanks, on a ramp, etc. However MULE can’t attack or repair.

It’s worth noting that the Orbital Command’s calldown subject has changed from being an ordinary mule to being a MULE. The all uppercase MULE is an acronym, perhaps a reference to Lockheed Martin’s  Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) vehicle, but it’s just as likely to be Blizzard’s small tribute to the legendary M.U.L.E multiplayer video game of 1983.

Central to the game is the acquisition and use of “M.U.L.E.”s (Multiple Use Labor Element) to develop and harvest resources from the player’s real estate. Depending on how it is outfitted, a M.U.L.E. can be configured to harvest Energy, Food, Smithore (from which M.U.L.E.s are constructed), and Crystite (a valuable mineral available only at the “Tournament” level).

Karune has clarified that the Baneling’s method of transportation in the recent Battle Report – walking – is there to help differentiate it from upgraded Banelings, which roll instead.

Yes. In the current build, Banelings are no longer roll but once they get the movement speed upgrade, they have the rolling animation.

Walking Banelings

Lastly, Cydra reconfirms some previously-revealed information regarding the Nighthawk and the Xel’Naga Watch Tower, while adding tidbits clarifying its behavior around Infested Marines and the Nighthawk’s deployables:

Nighthawk has the detecting ability.

Xel’Naga Watch Tower only can be activated by the ground units.
Infested Marine can activate the Xel’Naga Watch Tower but Auto-Turret can’t.

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The second installment of the Fan Q&A series has been released via Starfeeder, spanning 9 questions and including the introduction of the brand new Zerg Brood Lord – a flying, heavy assault unit. All questions were answered by Dustin Browder – Lead Designer of StarCraft 2.

1. What is the minimum screen resolution Starcraft 2 is supporting?


The minimum screen resolution in the current build is 1024x768x32 bits.

Considering the fact that StarCraft is in full 3D and it’s reasonable to assume that battles involving more than a hundred units won’t be an anomaly, Blizzard is bound to include low-detail modes to enable a decent level of gameplay for owners of mid-low range of PCs.

Despite never being graphically outdated, Blizzard’s games have always been able to cater to wide audiences and are not aimed at the uber-specced high-end gaming machines.

2. There has been a lot of concern, that ZvZ (Zerg vs Zerg) could become a roach micro contest as roaches do double damage to biological, are tier 1 and have high regeneration. Is this true? If not, how can one counter a roach rush in ZvZ?


Zerg versus Zerg games has been one of our most challenging matchups to balance. With regard to Roaches versus Roaches, all I can say now is that we are still balancing and several things have already changed that will affect how the Roach will do, including bringing Hydralisks back down to a Tier 1.5 unit and having a more standard ranged attacker role.

3. How has island map matches been like so far in StarCraft II internal testing? Could you describe basic sample builds and/or tactics in island games?


StarCraft II races have arguably become more mobile than the original StarCraft with the introduction of the Viking and Medivacs, as well as having a more easily usable Nydus Worm, and Warp-In. With these new mechanics, there will be several new ways to invade an island position, keeping the game fast paced and exciting. ‘Turtling,’ will be a bit harder to do in StarCraft II because of these mechanics as well.

What Blizzard has accomplished is a complete tactical reset of StarCraft. After StarCraft 2 was announced, the biggest concern of many fans was that Blizzard’s fear of straying too far from the predecessor’s tactical roots will eventually lead to the creation of a “StarCraft 3D”.

Few concepts of StarCraft 1 have remained completely intact, with ZvZ, one of StarCraft’s most intense match-ups, being completely torn apart with the introduction of a low-tier, regenerating, anti-biological unit.

Hydralisks

It’s interesting to note how often the Hydralisk, one of StarCraft 1’s core units, has shifted back and forth between roles and tiers. Right now, it seems to have reverted back to its traditional StarCraft 1 role, as evident by the last Battle Report.

4. Could you tell us about how Muta stacking will work?


Stacking up Mutalisks will be possible in StarCraft II but they will tend to spread out again when they move or attack.


5. Are any new units yet to be revealed? ie: Zerg heavy air unit?


Zerg has a new flying heavy assault unit known as the Brood Lord. This one is buff! Much more intimidating than the Guardian and will still be morphed from the Mutalisk. This unit will be replacing the previously seen Swarm Guardian and will have new art as well. This unit currently has 350 hit points and a large range of 9, doing 25 damage and spawning a Broodling upon each attack, which will live for a few short seconds, doing minor melee damage.

The Brood Lord, a brand new Zerg unit, is a combination of StarCraft 1’s Guardian and Queen. Nothing else is known about this unit, which has yet to appear on any screenshot, battle report or official page.

6. How big is the internal StarCraft II testing team? Are there dedicated full-time testers?


We are currently running the internal alpha testing for every employee and we also have some dedicated QA staff for the game as well.

7. What is the role of the E-sports team? Is Blizzard looking to support the game via an official Blizzard league? Or will that be left to 3rd parties like fansites / game sites to establish?


The role of our eSports Team is to operate tournaments and competitive events for Blizzard games.  We will release more information on our plans for StarCraft II tournaments, both official and third-party, as we get closer to the launch of the game.


8. We’ve seen unit and mineral counts as over-head graphics in game during the first StarCraft II battle-report. Are there more features we haven’t seen yet in regards to spectating games?


You can find more information on the replay UI at the latest Q&A batch and you can see various information tabs such as army size, resource collection rate, resource allocations, and tech research in progress.

The Replay UI is definitely one of the most welcome improvements for the majority of RTS gamers. Being able to watch, understand and learn the deep mechanics and statistics of your own games is key to self-improvement. Notice, for example, how useful the following unit portrait turned out to be on this observer display. (thanks Chronos!)

Infested Portrait

9. Where will the StarCraft II team take their vacation once the game is launched?


In all honesty, we’ll probably be on Battle.net playing StarCraft II with all of you.

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The second installment of the StarCraft 2 Battle Report series delivered. With both players being “StarCraft II team’s associate game balance designers“, there was little time wasted on figuring things out and both proceeded to pound each other aggressively throughout the game.

Battle Report 2

Just like the first Battle Report, the map chosen for this match also includes plenty of novelties which weren’t part of StarCraft I’s terrain:

The brand new Brush terrain acts as a line-of-sight barrier; an artificial cliff on plain ground. There are a few obvious usages for it:

  • Retreating units to find cover from ranged pursuers.
  • Approaching long-range heavy hitters without taking damage.
  • Ambushing with either Melee or Ranged units – without scouting, units can easily wander into a close range trap.

Blistering Sands StarCrarft 2 Map

*Green – Brush. *Yellow Squares = Starting Spots. *Yellow Circles = Natural Expansions. *Red = High Yield

Blistering Sands includes Brush on top of the second access ramp to the players’ bases, providing a secondary line of defense in case the ramp gets overtaken. Next to each ramp there is another Brush, which is used as a retreating path for attackers. The Zerg player puts it to good use at [8:41] to lose the pursuing Terran Reapers.

The game includes active use of the recently introduced Macro “Buffs” – and indeed, these are no longer chores but decisions made by players to alter their production and resource gathering rates. The Zerg Queens spawns additional larva at [5:13] to initiate a counter attack against the early Terran offensive, and the Terran puts the Mules to good use in his new expansion at [19:50].

StarCraft 2 Mules

The Battle includes several interesting battles, which shed a lot of light on the Terran’s new best friend – Splash Damage. We’ve mentioned before how the Terran appear to have a lot of Area of Effect attacks “on paper” … well, this match showcases this nicely, without even featuring any ground vehicles.

The Reaper’s Detonation Charges coupled with Banelings cause a mutual annihilation of armies at [10:25], a Nighthawk self-destructs on Banelings in what was confirmed to be a Hunter Seeker Missile mishap at [14:50], and Zerg dancing ensues when the Terran goes missile-happy at [18:30].

Mutual Destruction - Zerg and Terran in their natural enviroment

The Zerg got a chance to showcase many of their new abilities, with Banelings receiving plenty of air time throughout the whole game. With infantry receiving NO HEALING, the Banelings’ splash and the regenerating Roaches usually had the upper hand on the Terran M&M (that’s Marauders and Marines now), which later managed to push the Zerg back only with the help of some Aerial support.

Notable features, changes and abilities in this Battle Report include:

  • Infestors can spawn Infested Terrans (ranged Infantry unit), no infestation needed. Appear to pop out in groups of five.
  • Burrowing does not save you from Hunter-Seeker Missiles.
  • Each Marauder takes up two out of four slots when placed inside a bunker. [13:31]
  • Zerg Banelings don’t roll, but walk into targets.
  • The Zerg’s defensive structure, the Spine Crawler, has relatively fast movement speed, but long burrow-setup time [7:15]
  • Terran Mules insta-mine crystals, and emerge from drop-pods ralatively quickly when called for.
  • The Zerg Hydralisk appears to have a Melee attack now, and one is clearly seen here clawing away at a Terran Auto-Turret.

The map’s new qualities play an important and integral role throughout the match. Many battles are waged around the Xel’Naga watch towers as units tend to gravitate towards it to receive the benefit of its sight range. The Zerg player put constant pressure on the Terran’s secondary choke point in order to take out the barrier blocking the path leading directly into his base. The Brush was used effectively as a cut off point on open terrain and created another position of interest on the map that a skillful player could exploit.

Collectively, the new terrain features have a great impact on the way the game is played. Every map now comes with a well defined selection of key points which grant certain units and races an advantage by default. It will be interesting to see if Blizzard decides to introduce additional terrain features in the future, to take the game even further in this direction.

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As Karune has put it,

These Q&As have the intention of getting everyone on the same page in regards to StarCraft II’s current status.

TeamLiquid has gotten eleven of their questions answered in a spectacular Q&A session, with six of those purely gameplay oriented, along with two Map Editor questions and three questions covering interface and observer technicalities. The gameplay related answers are highly detailed, each pinpointing the exact mechanics and units in question.

1. How’s the current balance and what balance issues have you faced?


One of the design challenges we are currently dealing with relates to the Dark Pylon, which doesn’t seem to have enough energy tension between probe buffing and acting as an energy reserve for caster units. With Mules, Terran players have a clear strategy decision every time they chose to call down a Mule, instead of saving for a comsat scan. Similarly, Queens have to use their energy carefully, choosing between expanding creep, producing more larva, and protecting her base as a base defender. Dark Pylons on the other hand, are relatively cheap to produce at 150 minerals, provide Pylon power, allow warp-in and proxy play, cloak units, and act as an energy well for casters in strategic positions, while also supporting an economy with macro resource collecting benefits.

Blizzard’s goal of introducing significant macro-oriented decisions – to compensate for more advanced automation – seems to be successful. Players will have to time and calculate the trade-offs of using resource and production enhancing abilities. It appears that both the Zerg and Terran mechanics have been well integrated into the game, adding to the complexity of the macromanagement portion of it without being too artificial or detracting from the fun. However, unlike the relatively non-ubiquitous Command Center and Queen, Dark Pylons, which only cost 150 minerals, have enough combined energy to dilute the decision process with their less limited reserves.

Dark Harvest

2. The new lower tier availability of mass mobility such as phase prisms and nydus canals seems to prompt for an even greater need for timely ‘snipe’ abilities for players, but with removal of units like the scourge, Blizzard seems to go in opposite direction. The games of SC2 I played so far clearly presented me with the problem of being forced to deal with the consequences of certain types of harass or assault while I saw them coming a mile away, in contrast to being able to effectively prevent them. There were for example, no efficient ways of ‘sniping’ enemy observers and nomads to kill their stealth detection or destroying their medivac dropships before they dropped or finishing off that phase prism before it could deploy and warp-in a dozen or more units into my base. How does Blizzard view these issues and aim to prevent a purely reactionary type of gameplay?


It is true that in StarCraft II, the races have become comparatively more mobile than the original StarCraft. To deal with the new threats mentioned above, scouting and vision have become an even more crucial part in gameplay, as well as building placement to defend against such incursions. Observers are now lower on the tech tree compared to the original StarCraft. Missile turrets can be upgraded with larger range and hit harder as well. Sensor towers can provide early warning of incoming attacks. Additionally, Zerg base defense is now mobile, allowing for quicker adaptation to deal with incoming threats


At higher levels, an RTS will always have some reactionary play, though in some cases you can react preemptively as well, which could force the opponent to react in another way. With these new methods to both scout and defend, it will help a player deal with opponent decisions on attacking more potently. It is true, with all the new mobility mechanics, it is more likely that you’ll have to pull your probes more often and dodge attacks, but at the same time, with better defenses and new abilities like the Queen’s Razor Swarm, warp-in, and many more – you’ll be able to make the enemy pay a much higher price in performing these attacks as well.

While elaborate, this does not really provide an answer to this hard-hitting question. The new options available to players mentioned above are interesting in themselves, but the issue of the transformation of the game into being more reactive than preventative is still on the table.

It’s worth noting that the Terran do have a “sniping” unit now – the Nomad Nighthawk, which, with its new Hunter-Seeker Missile, should be able to scare off any unit away from the battlefield or obliterate a Dropship before it has managed to unload its cargo.

3. In StarCraft, there are certain upgrade thresholds where some units start to perform vastly better against certain units. For example, + 1 attack zealots kill zerglings in 2 hits instead of 3, or +1 armor marines can take 3 lurker hits instead of 2. These elements add another layer of depth to the game by making upgrades a crucial part of strategy. Do these thresholds exist in StarCraft II, and is the game being designed with them in mind?


While we don’t try to develop too many of these relationships, there are times we do try to make more rigid balance points like these when we see the need for them.
Examples:
1. Zealot –Zergling relationship is still there
2. Roach vs. Zerglings have this relationship- 3 shots to kill before, and 2 shots after (then gets countered by +1 armor by zerglings)
3. Reapers scale better than most other units in the game as they normally do 4+4dmg but get +2 per attack upgrade since they fire twice(25% per upgrade compared to the normal 10%)
4. Marine dies in 1 hit to baneling, 2 hits after combat shield upgrade
5. Marauders get just under the shield of Immortals (counters them early game), but as both sides get more upgrades, the relationship becomes muddier and goes in favor of the Immortals. (Immortals with 3 shield upgrade takes only 7 damage per hit currently)
6. The Colossus kills Marines in 1 shot until they get either armor or combat shields, after which they take 2 shots to kill.

Unit upgrade arms races were, and will remain, one of the finer and most rewarding aspects of a close battle. A team of  two +1 Zealots could stop hoards of unupgraded Zerglings, greatly improving the cost efficiency of early upgrades. It seems that these special relationships are particularly abundant when it comes to the Terran Infantry of StarCraft – with Reapers, Marines and Marauders all receiving unique benefits.

Zealots holding ground against attacking Zerglings

4. In the original StarCraft, upgrades would give different units different degrees of improvement, such as a fully upgraded zergling gaining a total 60% attack increase, compared to a dragoon that would gain 30%. In comparison, Warcraft III upgrades were designed so that the percentage improvement per upgrade was approximately the same for each unit. Will upgrades scale in this manner in StarCraft II as well?


Yes, StarCraft II will follow an upgrade system similar to that of the original StarCraft. Many of the new upgrades really help in almost creating a new type of unit out of a previous one. For example, in early game Stalkers can kite Zealots and easily handle them with micro. When Zealots gain charge, they will easily catch those Stalkers and tear them up. Similarly, when Stalkers get blink, they can continue to micro and use terrain advantages to fight those Zealots. On that same note, Zerglings with their attack speed upgrades make it a far deadlier unit, in line with the original StarCraft. As a design philosophy, we really wanted to make several upgrades allow a shift to the balance of power, creating new battle scenarios as players tech up.


5. In SC and WC3 you can dodge attacks using dropships/zeppelins, or with teleportation spells (ie. blink), or even just superior mobility (in the case of lurker spines).
Can projectiles (and lurker spines in particular) be dodged in SC2?


Yes, certain projectiles/abilities like the Lurker spines, Psi Storm, nukes, and the newly-introduced Hunter Seeker missiles can be dodged.

Hidden Lurker, jumping Marine

6. Are submerged supply depots any different than regular supply depots other than the way that units can pass overtop when they are submerged? I.E. Does the opponent need detectors or anything to see/attack them, do they have the same health, armor, and additional supply count as un-submerged supply depots? Are there any benefits to not having supply depots submerged(other than walling purposes)?


The only difference between a submerged supply depot and a raised supply depot is the ability to path (or not path) over it.


Map Editor Questions


7. Is it possible to create maps which wrap around? So that the right edge leads back onto the left, creating a spherical space?


Yes, it is currently possible to create a map in which units can move from one side to the other, though there isn’t coding provided yet that would allow units to shoot from one side to the other.


8. We have heard many times that the map editor is capable of almost anything, but does this hold true for melee as well? Will you be able to implement map related features, such as different types of terrain (slowing, damage over time, energy regenerating, etc.), portals, or bridges and such, for ladder/melee maps?


Yes, players will be able to create special areas on the map as mentioned, though players will probably have to create them using invisible objects with those properties rather than have those properties be tied with the actual visual texture itself.

Since this feature already exists in the WarCraft 3 map editor, the mantra of “the StarCraft 2 Map Editor is all-capable” is not even necessary here… especially considering Karune’s recent boastful remark:

The Map Editor makes breakfast if you know how to code it.

Technical Questions


9. What, if any, function will the F2 through F4 keys have in StarCraft II? Has there been any thought of adding additional keys (F5 through F8) to serve as location hotkeys?


We are working on this now and will give the community an update when the roles of those keys have been decided.


10. Will observers and replays have a player’s view option, not just see what they have selected but actually move the screen to what they are viewing?


Yes, viewers will be able to watch from any player’s perspective.

This is a very interesting new concept for observers in RTS games. Following the player’s view at all times will allow a unique insight into his playstyle and also make sure the observer is always looking at the action. That is – if this interpretation is true, since the answer given is somewhat vague and noncommittal. Things like mouse movement and view are local processes which are not transmitted over the network, so this is not a trivial feature. In WarCraft 3, a similar function was achieved by having the observer follow the units currently selected by the player. Unfortunately, this usually lead to the screen view jumping around incomprehensibly most of the time.

11. Will people be able to join games after they’ve started (as an observer) and will you be able to boot observers (or people that abuse the ping function) from games?


No, players will not be able to join after a game has started, though we have yet to decide how to handle observers in a game and who has the right to boot players.

Also of interest are the questions which Blizzard had received from TeamLiquid but has not provided an answer for:

1. What strategies/units are being used in different matchups? In BW terran for example uses exclusively mech against protoss, could you give some brief examples of what it’s like in SC2 right now, and how it has evolved during development?

8. Are there still plans for making the editor available during the beta period?

14. Will there be backwards compatibility for watching older replays on newer versions of sc (for example by keeping all the patch data of previous versions backed up)? Will we be able to watch replays online with friends? If so can replay games be host publicly instead of private only?

15. Are there any plans to allow players to save a game state from a replay or immediately play from that point? In a similar manner, will there be a “Save on disconnect” feature, allowing players to resume games where one player disconnects, in the way they would a saved game?

In other news, Blizzard has officially released the second Battle Report – be sure to watch it, because we intend to spoil it soon.

Battle Report

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